Comprehensive Biography of Ike's Martial Career

Article excerpt

Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life. Carlo D'Este. Henry Holt and Company. 849 pages; photographs; notes; bibliography; maps; index; $35.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower emerged from World War II in resplendent glory as the nation's most popular war hero. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Eisenhower was chiefly responsible for the conduct of the European war that resulted in Allied victory on the Western Front. In the six decades following V-E Day, Ike has attracted his fair share of biographers since he accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945. In Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, distinguished military historian Carlo D'Este has compiled what is likely to be considered the most comprehensive biography of Ike's martial career.

D'Este is no stranger to the study of the European conflict and biography in general. A retired military officer, D'Este has written four campaign studies, including Decision in Normandy, long recognized as the definitive history of what historian Stephen E. Ambrose has labeled "the climactic campaign of World War II." In addition, D'Este has proven himself a superb biographer in his own right. His Patton: A Genius for War ranks second only to Martin Blumenson's The Patton Papers and Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945 as the definitive analysis of the war's most flamboyant commander. In his current work, D'Este concentrates strictly on Eisenhower's military career from his graduation as a member of West Point's fabled class of 1915 to the final victory in Europe.

The Eisenhower who emerges from these pages is hardly the reluctant warrior and hero of earlier biographies. Rather D'Este portrays his subject as an extraordinarily ambitious officer, who early on "made up [his] mind ... to make [himself] as good an Army officer as [he] could" and later vowed "to cut [himself] a swath" to compensate for missing combat in World War I. Just three years out of West Point, young Eisenhower commanded a force exceeding 10,000 officers and men at Camp Colt, Pa. An excellent trainer and indispensable staff officer, Eisenhower earned accolades from the Army's senior leadership prior to World War II-leaders who included Generals Fox Conner, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and George C. Marshall.

What makes this particular biography so interesting is D'Este's balanced assessment of Eisenhower. Numerous times he takes his subject to task for self-serving comments, such as those made concerning the Bonus March, when Ike prepared the official afteraction report, deliberately "sugar-coating" the Army's performance in dispersing the marchers. He also chides Eisenhower for his lackadaisical attitude toward his own family as he climbed the ladder of military success. According to D'Este, Ike made all his own career decisions and "expected Mamie's acquiescence." Not surprisingly, the toll on the marriage was severe. That the union survived the long separations and the specious rumors concerning Ike's infidelity was a testament to the love the couple shared.

Eisenhower's relationships with the most prominent soldiers and politicians of his day also make provocative reading. …